Sunday, February 28, 2016

Many Cultures, One Black Race

Left: Me, Right (from Top to Bottom) Leslie and Ndidi aka my anchors and God-given Soul Sisters.

My two closest friends and soul sisters are Nigerian (Ndidi) and Puerto Rican (Leslie). I am American. We are of three separate ethnicities (i.e. cultures). Collectively, we are a beautiful exhibit of varying melanin. We are all brown girls; therefore, qualified to be a part of the Black race. It is a simple explanation of our identity...something that I never think about (because I just love my friends). Yet, in society, there's still a struggle to accept such simplicity when it comes to the topic of race vs. ethnicity. This issue is not only in the Americas but a breakdown across the world, and even within cultures. In honor of Black History Month, I choose to be one of the voices that help to "make it plain."

Society creates ambiguity regarding color and culture, when it's all relatively simple: To be "Black or African American" is to be of one race based on color, made up of multiple ethnicities (i.e. language, culture, nation of origin). The diversity that creates the Black race around the world (with focus on the US) is indeed a beautiful thing!

Being one culture instead of another, or a lighter shade of brown, wavy locks or a beautiful fro, doesn't make you more or less "black," especially since the race is based on African descent. At the same time, your race doesn't overshadow your culture. In America, there's this dire need for people of diverse cultures to 'pick a side.' A writer wrote to the Huffington Post saying, "I grew up in No Mans' Land. I loved collard greens and mofongo. At Thanks giving, we ate fried chicken and arroz con gandules." This writer's life experience is a testament to the simple fact that you CAN be a combination of cultures simply because that's WHO you ARE. Society's inability to understand or accept this truth, doesn't change the fact that it is what it is.

Additionally, the variety in culture amongst Blacks in America in no way takes away from Black people like me, whose roots trace back to being Black by race, and American by culture. My personal experience is that I'm asked more often than none if I'm Cuban, Dominican, Nigerian, Panamanian...and a few times argued at and told "..there's no way you're just American. What else are you?!" On the other hand, I've been advised to not term myself "African American" by a few individuals who live in America but are from African countries. Even though I do possess the right to state myself as "African American," I understood the need we all have to be identified and fairly represented. Still...

No conversation of race changes the fact that: 

1) I am who I am. I am proudly Black American. Simply put, I adore being a brown girl! I love looking at pictures of my family! My maternal grandfather alone was a beautiful blend of two Native American tribes plus Asian and Black. He had slanted eyes, sharp cheekbones, and the most beautiful chocolate skin, and Grandpa Norwood was a (proud) Black man. First, self-defined by his character, secondly his race.

2) As shared in a Huffington Post article, Soledad O'Brien explained it well: "I'm Black. I'm Latina. My mom is Cuban. My dad is White and Australian. And I think because of my job a question like, 'how do you identify?'  is really not about the question, it's always 'what side are you on?' 'what perspective do you bring?'"You are who you are. Don't let anyone complicate that. In knowing the cultures that make you who you are, celebrate and share with the world the history and historians, and the beauty of the cultures that make you,"you."   

3) The moral obligation and societal responsibility is that we all need to be more accepting of each other. Even people within the same race or culture. Rid the "light skin vs dark skin, bad hair vs. good hair, accent vs. no accent" complex and learn to embrace the fact that- for someone to be who they are (and look how they do) doesn't take away from who you are (nor how you look). No one group of people has to be the "bad" or "negative" group for another group to thrive.

It also won't hurt to step out of the box and embrace another culture, because we as people are more than just the color of our skin. New York photographer, Ima Mfon was highlighted by CNN in an article titled Being Nigerian in America. Through a thesis project, Ima used his art to share with others what it meant to be Nigerian. The article reads, "When he asked his participants what makes them Nigerian -- he got answers like, "my family, my upbringing, my name."

Moral of the story: Embrace. Understand. Accept. Most importantly just simply love. The diversity of race and ethnicity brings something unique and valuable to the world - that's just the way it is.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dear Oprah: A quirky yet truthful open letter

02|12|16 Oprah Winfrey Blvd. In "The Windy City."
Photo taken by: 

Dear Oprah,

I traveled from Maryland (my new home) to Illinois (both states being your old career stomping grounds), and stopped by Harpo Studios. I came to collect the "Talk Show Hosting" torch but after almost three decades of filming an amazing show at your Chicago studios, you weren't there...still I need the torch Lady O! Here's why:

"She's the next Oprah!" You know, it's the one compliment I get the most. It's such a dose of inspiration for me, because your name is synonymous with "Queen of Talk." Still, while the compliment is an honor, I believe that me being the next Oprah requires me to be originally-LaToria...and like you, I hope to make history and to build a legacy so that when it's time, I can be "the next LaToria's" Oprah.

It excites me- the thought of fulfilling my calling! The blessing of having a supernatural gift of a compassionate heart, gregarious personality, and being an expert of conversation. A purpose to inspire and pour love into others. It's the ability to draw and comfort but without is not only a blessing but it is the magic of a gift we both have in common.

The difference is, the world knows you VERY well, and while I haven't yet risen to such a status of popularity, I've been blessed for years to have the ability of influence. My "talk show" has been airplanes, restaurants, post offices, and early morning/late night conversations. The run-ins with  complete strangers who tell me their life stories upon first meeting, shed tears and share hugs in conversation, and walk away knowing everything is going to be okay through my words of inspiration. Perfect strangers taking peace that they've found a friend in me...even if it was just for a moment.

It's the phone calls from dear friends where a prayer is needed or advice requested and my spirit comes alive, knowing that God has chosen to use me as "His mouth piece" (as one Pastor colorfully stated) to speak truth, love, and hope into the situations of my loved ones. It's using the pain of an ugly past to relate with broken hearts and to help them heal. It's how I love others, and that love is who I am, it's what brings me complete joy.

I never knew the road to destiny would require so much pain and even more that I'd see so many miracles. However, it has been God allowing the ups and downs that has made me who I am, and for such a time as this. The President has an Oval office, pastors have pulpits, teachers have classrooms, athletes have arenas, and those of us whose gifts shine through conversation, well, a couple of us are meant to have talk shows.

You once said "I'm going to run on, see what the end will be and keep surrendering to God's dreams for me..." and that has been and will continue to be my exact plan! I've known my entire life that the fulfillment of my heart's desires, my place of destiny, my lifetime, only happens by way of the hands of God.

Still there's certain steps He requires of me, and one is graciously coming to get that torch from you ;) So pass the torch Oprah, because you've paved a beautiful path for a passionate soul like mine to bless the lives of more and more audiences, full of beautiful people, and boy oh boy am I ready!

Sincerely (and with an outpouring of appreciation for you as the Queen of Talk and one of my favorite leading ladies),

LaToria or as many call me "The Next Oprah."

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